John Stott once said that there are two main expressions of spirituality throughout church history: evangelical and mystical. In the SEARC breakout session on Biblical Spirituality, we are going to compare and contrast biblical/evangelical spirituality with Christian mysticism. In what ways and to what extent have the roots and fruits of Christian mysticism affected popular evangelicalism today? How can we learn from the long legacy of Bible-centered, Reformed spirituality?
Some of the best examples of Reformed, bibliocentric, and gospel-centered piety from which we can learn are found among the Puritans. The Puritans by far had the most profound and well-developed practice of meditation. How did the Puritans practice and view the spiritual discipline of meditation? Meditation is so crucial that the Puritan’s would say if a Christian doesn’t meditate and thirst for God, he is not truly born again. Regular meditation is not an option for the true believer; it is the lifeblood of a true believer. Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditation must precede obedience, which precedes blessing. According to my former Ph.D. professor, Dr. Don Whitney, Bible reading is the exposure to Scripture, and meditation is the absorption of Scripture. Bible intake is the greatest practice of biblical spirituality; and moreover, Bible meditation and memory are the most significant means by which we can absorb and be filled with the Word of God.
Here is a brief comparison of the presuppositions behind mysticism and worldly meditation versus Christian meditation:
MYSTICAL/WORLDLY MEDITATION CHRISTIAN MEDITATION
Empty your mind Fill your mind
Desires mental passivity Requires mental activity
Visualization to “create your own reality” Whatever is true…dwell on these (Phil 4:8)
Link meditation with self-actualization Link meditation with prayer and action
There are many popular “methods” of spirituality that are promoted in evangelicalism today, but we must remember that our methodology is always rooted in our theology. What we believe about God’s revelation and the doctrine of union with Christ will directly influence how we seek to know God. For our spirituality to be truly Christian, it must be guided by Scripture, and it must be informed by our justification and union with Christ. With the prophet Isaiah, we should plead for the sufficiency and authority of the Word: “To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn” (Isa 8:20).